Good Sweat = No Sweat

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By Steve MacLaughlin on August 5, 2013, 2:25pm Last modified: August 6, 2013, 9:56am

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As of 2pm on Monday, August 5th, our dew points in CT are as low as 42 degrees. This is what we consider "off-the-charts" for summer in the Northeast. It feels amazing! And besides feeling great, when the air is dry, the temperature can fall more freely at night, and that means another taste of fall tomorrow morning.

An average summer day usually has a dew point somewhere between 50 (really dry) and 70 (really humid). On our oppressively humid summer days that we might find during a heatwave, dew points might surge into the 70s (think back to our July heatwave) and occassionally might hit 80...which is as bad as it can get. We have not hit 80 degrees this year at any of our official recording stations. If memory serves, we topped out at about 77 or 78 degrees for a few hours during the peak of our seven-day heatwave. Last year we hit a dew point of 80 degrees one day in late June for a few hours.

So...the dew point tells us how much moisture is in the air. When it is hot and you add humidity (higher dewpoints), our bodies get tricked into thinking it is hotter than it is because it is harder to stay cool. In Las Vegas right now, it is 97 degrees - but the dew point is only 20 degrees. So, it is hot, but that "dry heat" is much easier for our bodies to handle.

When we think of “sweating,” we usually think of being drenched with liquid sweat. But the truth is, when sweating is happening properly and efficiently, you should be bone dry with not a care in the world.

Our bodies are insane machines, tailored just perfectly after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. We get cold, our bodies respond by shivering and increasing the heart rate which keeps us warm. We get something in our nose that doesn’t belong and our bodies shoot it out with a violent sneeze. We get embarrassed, blood rushes to our face. We get into an accident, adrenaline pulses through our veins. But sweating is the coolest (pun absolutely intended) of the body’s protective quirks and it has more to do with meteorology than just keeping us from over-heating.

When our bodies “sweat,” moisture is moved to the surface of our skin. When this water hits the air, under perfect circumstances, it evaporates immediately. Evaporation is a cooling process. So…if the water that is condensing on our skin can evaporate instantly, our skin stays cool and we never actually get wet and never see any “sweat.” More importantly, our bodies stay at a healthy temperature inside even if we are working hard on the outside. If you have ever walked around Las Vegas in the 115 degree heat, you may wonder why your clothes don’t actually get wet. It’s because the air in Vegas is usually bone dry and as that water condenses on our skin, it immediately evaporates and we stay cool. Low humidity means our bodies don’t have to work very hard to stay cool. But here in Connecticut in the middle of a summer heat wave, there is so much moisture in the air that when that water condenses on our skin, it can’t evaporate quickly enough. In other words, more water is condensing than is evaporating…and that leftover water is what we call “sweat.”

Now, sweat is not a bad thing. If you live in a humid part of the country, you are going to sweat and although there’s always a chance to over-heat, sweating at least means the body is working to keep you cool. But if it’s a really humid day outside and you stop sweating…beware! That means something is wrong with your body and heat stroke may be happening. When your body stops sweating it stops condensing the water on your skin and there is no way to keep your body at that balanced 98.6.

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Steve MacLaughlin

Town: New Haven, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since January 2012.

Articles: 122

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